By Matthew Graviss, Ph.D.
The Department of State is developing opportunities to transform itself into a more data-centric culture, positioning employees to make better-informed, evidence-based mission decisions. Changing internal culture doesn’t happen overnight for any organization—particularly one as old as the Department—but innovative efforts to train the workforce can accelerate these changes.
The idea to increase employees’ data skills began to simmer at the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI’s) School of Applied Information Technology (SAIT) in 2017. To put the idea into practice, SAIT approached what is now known as the Center for Analytics (CfA), the Department’s enterprise data management and analytics capability. The collaboration resulted in creating the first course of the Department’s data literacy program, called PS311 Data Analysis & Visualization. This weekly, 12-person class became the most sought after course taught at SAIT.
Rebecca Bluhm has been the instructor since the beginning. “We were getting rave reviews with PS311, but people were wanting more. It was like, ‘you’ve given me an appetizer now, where is my entrée?’”
Employee calls for data-related courses didn’t go unheard. SAIT and CfA are, individually, catalysts for data culture, but together, they are a powerful force multiplier.
“We continue to nurture our partnership with CfA,” said SAIT Business Applications Branch Chief Tiffany Taylor Attaway. “Data literacy is one of those fundamental skills that every 21st-century knowledge worker is going to need to be successful at their job.”
The total of CfA-sponsored courses taught at SAIT has increased to seven. The courses equip both working-level employees and executives with opportunities to learn various skills from visual design to programming languages. PS311, the course that started the trend, has been updated to include dashboard capabilities. So far, nearly 2,000 students have taken the data courses. In this age of analytics, the demand for data at the Department is high, and FSI and CfA are committed to promoting and feeding this demand.
Matthew Graviss, Ph.D., is the chief data officer at the Department of State.